Snowmachine Ride on NYE

I spent a few days in Anchorage over Christmas break. My return to the village did not go as expected, but it was a great adventure.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures of the beginning of the story because I didn’t know that it would become blog-worthy. I was scheduled to fly home via Ravn Alaska on New Year’s Eve. But, as is sometimes the case when traveling to the Bush, weather became an issue. We boarded the 32-passenger plane to St. Mary’s on time, and soon after we were asked to deplane. Half an hour later, we repeated this process. Finally, we were told we could board for the third time. However, we planned to catch a connecting flight out of St. Mary’s, and Ravn warned that the village flights had been canceled all day. Another option was to rebook for the next available flight…five days later! This meant not only returning to work late, but also paying for an additional five nights in a hotel. My principal, who happened to be on the same flight, said it was best to fly to St. Mary’s even though there was no guarantee we would get the rest of the way home.

We flew more than 450 miles to St. Mary’s and, sure enough, the smaller planes could not fly to Pilot Station. Thankfully, my principal has a lot of contacts. After making many phone calls, he had arranged for people to take the 11-mile trail by snowmachine to pick us up. (A snowmachine is what non-Alaskans call a snowmobile.)

Since the airport was shutting down for the night, we met our drivers at the local Alaska Commercial (AC) Store. Alaska rule states that you haven’t been to a village until you’ve visited its school and its store, so I was excited to take the first step. St. Mary’s is a hub, and their store is huge!

outside store

It looks like Walmart!

inside store

OK, maybe more like Dollar General. But it has a nice selection of fresh produce!

produce

I wasn’t prepared with my best winter gear, so I bought a face mask.
Brittney in facemask

We left nonessential luggage at the airport to be delivered by plane later. The stuff that we had to bring was put in trash bags to keep it dry.

luggage

Then we went outside and waited expectantly for the snowmachines to come. Although it was too foggy for planes, it was not too cold. About an hour later, we saw a series of headlights come over the hill. It was the snowmachines from Pilot!

snowmachines

We loaded our luggage in a sled that one of the snowmachines was dragging. Then we got on our way.

loading the sled

The “trail” between St. Mary’s and Pilot Station largely consists of frozen bodies of water. Now I understand why my students get so excited when the temperature falls: It opens up a whole new mode of travel! We drove down into lakes and rivers, then up into wooded areas.

My driver was Niles, the son of our 2nd grade teacher who was visiting his dad for the holidays. I had to hold on tight, so I didn’t get many pictures. Besides, this was around 7pm just a few days after the shortest day of the year. I did snap a pic during one of our pit stops. Several times we regrouped¬†to make sure everyone was doing OK.

pit stopEverything went smoothly, for the most part. There was that one time that my principal fell off the snowmachine, but I promised not to tell about that ūüėČ

It’s hard to describe the sensation of riding a snowmachine. My first impression was something like this:

flyingBut it is probably more akin to a very fast, cold horseback ride.

The trip home took about an hour, and it is not one I’ll soon forget. I immediately texted my dad, “Will you buy me a snowmachine for my birthday?”¬†He never answered.

All in all, it was the best New Year’s Eve of my life.

Ordering Sushi in Rural Alaska

We’ve had a busy week. The first quarter is ending, and grades and progress notes are due. Plus we’ve been getting ready for Halloween. So another teacher and I decided to skip cooking for one night and order food instead. 

This morning we called Chopstix, an Asian restaurant in Bethel, Alaska, to place the order. At 5:30 pm we got a call that our food was on the way. I took the school truck to the airport.  

 The plane landed just as I got there. It was “the big plane” — a Cessna 208 (with a center aisle) as opposed to a tiny 207.  

 This happy little box holds dinner for two people.  

 My two rolls, plus my half of the $25 freight charge, cost $40.40.  

 It was so worth it! 

House Tour

Most school districts in rural Alaska lease furnished housing to teachers. My district is no exception. Today I want to share some pics with you, my dear readers.¬†outside of houseAnd here it is! This shade of red is a common paint color in Alaska.entry to houseI’m lucky to have a roof over my front steps so they don’t get too slippery. The blue tote¬†stores garbage until I can get to the dump.

view from the porch¬†I’m also lucky to have a nice view from my porch ūüôā

Moving inside…¬†arctic entry¬†This is called an arctic room or arctic entry — like a foyer, but less fancy. Basically, it’s a small room that separates the front door (brrr) from the rest of the house.

living room¬†Take a right, and you’re in the living room.

shelf with items from Alaska wilderness A bookshelf in the corner holds some items from the Alaska wilderness: driftwood from the Yukon River, an unidentified green rock found on the beach in Gustavus, and a fossil.

birch tree paintingOn Labor Day weekend I made this artwork for my dining area. I painted the sky with a paper towel and the birch trees with an old credit card! Click here to learn how to make your own.

kitchen¬†Here’s the kitchen. The art¬†above the sink was made by Pat Minock, a local artist. He invited me to his house last spring to look at his prints. He’s a really nice guy with interesting stories. You can see and buy his art¬†here.

hallway¬†This is the hallway. To the left: pantry, roommate’s bedroom (not pictured), and my bedroom. To the right: kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room. At the end: spare bedroom.

pantry¬†It’s hard to keep this space organized, especially when you buy groceries in bulk.

bathroom¬†The bathroom is not too interesting, but it’s clean!

bedroom Most of my decorating efforts occur in my bedroom. I got the tapestry to hide some of the wood paneling.

bedroom  The curtain hides my closet.

top of dresser
photos on twine I have a few mementos on top of my dresser and some pictures hanging above.

laundry room¬†The hottest room in the house: the boiler/washing machine room…

storage room¬†¬†storage room…and¬†through the door on the far end, the coldest room (which is really an attached shed): the storage/dryer room.

spare bedroom Finally, the spare bedroom.

I hope you enjoyed touring my humble abode! Feel free to leave questions in the comments.

Scenes from a Bush Plane in the Fall

Labor Day may be the unofficial end of summer, but here in Alaska, fall is in full swing. On Monday I took a Cessna 207 to Mountain Village, the site of the District Office for the Lower Yukon School District, for curriculum training. The pilot, other teachers, and I got a good view of the fall colors.fall treesThis picture was taken not long after liftoff in Pilot Station. trees and mountainsAs you can see, we don’t fly too high above the ground.trees on a mountain mountains and Yukon RiverI got to ride co-pilot. Every time this happens, I think about the book Hatchet. And I silently pray that the pilot won’t have a heart attack and force me to land in the Yukon River, leaving me to survive using the emergency equipment in the back of the plane. I have an active imagination ūüôātundra and laketundraI love tundra. Tundra is spongy and fun to walk on. It also smells amazing. I want to capture tundra in a candle. Pitka's Point and Yukon RiverThe village of Pitka’s Point used to have a school in our district. Due to low attendance, the school was shut down and the students now take the bus to Mountain Village.St. Mary's and Yukon RiverIt’s hard to see, but St. Mary’s is behind the hill.road from St. Mary's to Mountain VillageHey, look — a road! It even has a car. It goes from the airport in St. Mary’s (a hub), past Pitka’s, to Mountain.

This 26-mile trip takes about 15 minutes by plane. Within two months, the landscape will change to white, blue, and gray. No matter the season, I love looking out the window at the scenery of the Yukon Delta.

Free Meat

Hello, all the way from Pilot Station, Alaska!

I’d like to start by apologizing for the lack of updates. I’ve faced a series of obstacles in¬†connecting to the Internet, and since I’m in a remote location, the only thing to do is be patient. I’ll do my best to catch you up over the next few posts.

Note to Mom: I know how you feel about dead animal pics, so you might not wanna read this ūüôā

Soon after our arrival in the village, we learned that Alaska Fish and Game leaves free fish by the dock twice a day. A little before 8:00 one evening, we hiked down to the Yukon River, bucket in tow.

cliff on Yukon River
It’s a beautiful river, by the way.

Yukon River dock

Then we waited for the boat.

boat coming in

Sometimes it brings lots of fish (60 one evening!), and sometimes it shows up empty. So we always make sure the locals get fish before we take any. Alaska Fish and Game will bring fish like this until the end of September.

I named my first salmon Loretta.

salmopn

Then Eddie, the husband of another new teacher, showed me how to gut and fillet it.

Eddie cutting salmon

My turn!

Brittney cutting fish

I looked like I’d murdered someone by the time I finished.

after cleaning a salmon

But I had about 10 servings of salmon.

salmon pieces

This past weekend, a student came to my door with a gift: all four legs of a moose!

moose quarters

His grandmother, one of the elders of the community, asked him to share his first moose of the season with the teachers. Jessica and I shared one leg.

cutting a moose

It took us about an hour to cut up. After splitting this leg with Jessica, I gave about a third of my half to some teachers who didn’t get a leg. And STILL, I ended up with 9 bags of meat!

Eddie estimates that one leg of a moose is more meat than an entire deer.

bagged moose

I ordered a meat grinder so I can use the meat like hamburger this winter.

Our Assistant Instructional Leader (AKA Assistant Principal) cooked some up right away. Then he, another teacher, and I brought the meal to the home of the student and grandmother who gifted us with moose. This is the customary way of thanking people for sharing with us.

I feel blessed to have so much meat in my freezer for the long winter ahead. Even more so, I feel blessed to live in a sharing community. In such a harsh and remote climate, cooperation is the only way to survive. At new teacher orientation, we were even cautioned not to encourage competition in the classroom because it goes against the values of our students and their families. The sharing nature of these people is just one of many characteristics I’m learning to love about the Yup’ik culture.

Things People Say When You Tell Them You’re Moving to Alaska

If you’re planning a move to Alaska, be prepared — you’re gonna hear this a lot!

word bubble

What part?

Pilot Station.

What’s that close to?

St. Mary’s, Marshall, Mountain Village…

And what are those towns close to?

Nothing really. LOL!

Why?!

I’m young. I’m single. I want to. Why not?

 

Are you gonna live in an igloo?

Nope, I’ll live in a furnished trailer, leased by the school district. I’ll even have electricity!

Did you know they have six months of darkness and six months of light?

I’ve heard that, although the description is¬†not entirely accurate.

Have you ever been to Alaska?

Heh. Nope!

What do your parents think about this?

They’re used to me living in another state. They’re excited.¬†I think my dad is already planning my retirement!

How did you hear about your new job?

Through Alaska Teacher Placement, an online job board.

 

Are you gonna become an Eskimo?

Hmmm. I don’t think I’ll be able to change my ethnicity.

It’s so pretty there!

I’ve heard. Can’t wait to see for myself!

You’re crazy!

That’s very possible.

I’m jealous!

Sometimes I’m even jealous of myself!


That’s all I can think of right now. I’m landing in Anchorage in three weeks!

Pilot Station, Alaska

map of Pilot Station, AK

I’m moving to Pilot Station, Alaska, in August. I’m excited to share some of my research about the village. When I was first offered a position with the Lower Yukon School District, I started researching each village. Pilot Station was one of my favorites because…

  1. It’s large enough to have some commerce. This website has information about commerce, demographics, etc. Pilot Station has two stores (many villages only have one) and a business called Bossy’s.
  2. It’s close to villages like St. Mary’s, Marshall, and Mountain Village. I’ve already emailed with girls in these villages, and maybe I’ll be able to visit them via snowmachine or ATV.
  3. It’s upriver, which means it has hills and trees.
  4. It’s on the Yukon River rather than the Bering Sea. Fun fact: I’m semi-afraid of the ocean. I don’t run screaming from it or anything, but the vastness of it freaks me out.

So I was excited when the district told me I’d be living and teaching in Pilot Station. I found a (no longer updated) blog of a girl who taught in Pilot Station in 2012-2013. And my mom found this video of a drive through town, starting at the airport:

What would you like to know about Pilot Station?